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River surfing project making waves in downtown Calgary

WATCH: Thousands of river surfers and spectators are expected to pack the riverfront walk this weekend for the third annual Slam Fest. As Cami Kepke reports, organizers hope to give people a taste of what some permanent changes to the river and park could be like.

Many summer days along the Bow River in Calgary aren’t complete without a view of the city’s river surfers.

This weekend, the surfers are looking to stand out at the third annual Slam Fest competition in front of thousands of spectators.

It’s the first time the festival has taken place at the iconic natural Calgary wave and organizers say it’s the first step towards something bigger.

“This is something that doesn’t exist in Alberta,” Alberta River Surfing Association president Neil Egsgard said. “There is no surf tourism, essentially, in Alberta.”

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Slam Fest is aiming to raise money to turn the water and trail space by the 10 Street bridge into an urban beach with manufactured surf waves.

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“The wave will have separate channels and these are adjustable channels, so you can have a beginner format wave or a competition level wave,” Slam Fest spokesperson Jenna Henderson said. “This will actually function a lot better year-round than this wave now because it has the adjustability.”

READ MORE: Student river-surfing club braves the waves year-round in Kananaskis

Using the current design, floaters would still have the option to bypass the manufactured waves or continue through them.

A rendering of the proposed urban beach design.
A rendering of the proposed urban beach design. Slam Fest

The Alberta River Surfing Association also hopes to build a spot for rafters to get in and out of the river and facilities to make the area more user-friendly.

“It’ll provide safety services, provide change rooms, washrooms, just make the area as it is now even better to use and then become the centre for everything river-oriented at this spot when the waves are complete,” Egsgard added.

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Egsgard built a similar wave in Kananaskis in 2014 and re-did it to double the swell this year.

Now the group thinks the time is right to bring more surf and sun culture to Calgary.

“It’s a free space,” Henderson said. “It would be a really cool, progressive feature in the water.

“We definitely find that people come by and even if they don’t surf they want to see people surf.”

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The urban beach project is estimated to cost $7 million.

READ MORE: Calgary police gear up for Bow River’s busiest weekend of the year

It’s likely more than four years away from being completed, should it get the green light. In the meantime, it’s giving the river surfing community and this weekend’s Slam Fest attendees something extra to cheer about.

Slam Fest runs Friday and Saturday near the 10 Street bridge.

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